Finally had a chance to watch The War Within, to which I was looking forward primarily because its score is credited to the Free Association, a group of musicians working in cahoots with DJ and composer David Holmes. Holmes is an occasional Steven Soderbergh collaborator, most notably as creator of the scores to Out of Sight (1998) and the three Ocean’s movies (2001, 2004, 2007), and he’s also done excellent work on such films as Code 46 (2003) and Stander (2003), both of which emphasized his interest in 1970s soul grooves and, as time has passed, an increasingly light touch.
Holmes’s score for The War Within, which was released in 2005, is among his least visceral, most airy work yet. The majority of it is soft rhythms and quiet patterns, many reverberating from electric guitar above touches of ethnic percussion and tremulous strings. Suffice to say, Holmes has come a long way from the spirit of the title of his debut album release, This Film’s Crap Let’s Slash the Seats (1995), which projected his cinematic aspirations, collecting genre slices of aggressive, largely instrumental electronica, with distinct reference points to drum’n’bass, hip-hop, and techno. In a quick decade, though, he’s gone from digital-punk upstart to big-screen introvert — in film terms, from Guy Ritchie to Terence Davies. It’s been a welcome maturation to observe, and none of this praise is intended to suggest the fire in his belly has dimmed, or that he couldn’t still make some serious noise when a film, or an audience, demanded it.
The War Within, directed by Joseph Castelo (An American Saint), who co-wrote it with its lead actor, Ayad Akhtar, tells the story of a would-be suicide bomber who rooms with an old friend after his planned attack on Manhattan is, at the last minute, called off. Suddenly ensconced in a tight family situation, the terrorist-in-hiding wrestles with his mission amid sweat-inducing flashbacks to torture sequences. If most of the film concerns itself with rumination and memory, so too does most of the score emphasize moments of mental reflection. Holmes’s music emphasizes backward masking, distant echoes, and druggy low-slung bass lines, and many of the brief cues (there are 28 of them on the CD, ranging in length from half a minute to just under four) often have the water-in-ear effect that, in film settings, signifies disorientation.
Music rarely plays under conversation in The War Within. More often it leads up to, or trails away from, action. I can only think of one instance when a specific cue signaled specific activity on the screen, and that’s toward the end of the film when the sister of the main character’s friend recognizes an object (I’m wording this to avoid a spoiler) — and even then, the action the music accompanies isn’t her taking possession of the object, so much as it is her recognizing the object’s consequence.
Though there is no commercially available release of The War Within score, digital copies were reportedly made available as a promotional free download by the film’s adventurous production company, HDNet. I received my copy on CD (pictured above) from the production company around the time of the film’s release. More details on the film at warwithinmovie.com and hdnetfilms.com.